Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 06, 2014

Standing waist deep in water, which included 12 inches of pond mud, I looked out over the expanse of lily pads before me. This particular end of the pond was the shallow end of the impoundment created by a small barrier wall and culvert, all done in the name of flood control. As were most of these suburban ponds or lakes in the area, they were greenways created in the process of diverting runoff away from the multitude of subdivisions. Fortunate enough to have been raised away from any sense of development, none of it screamed "fishing water" to me. Yet be that what it may, it was all I had. The streams an hour or so away were warm and unproductive except for a scant hour or so at dawn or dusk. Aside from the fact that stressing summer trout isn't always the best foot we have to put forward, I tend to focus on the spring creeks that remain cool for the most part, but time and work are not always my friend when it comes to reaching them. So here I was - in the lilies.

Now don't get me wrong, I love bass and bluegills on a popper. My mental anguish is based around the setting, not the fish. In my opinion poppers in lily pads are amazing times to be had on the water. It is more the foreign aspect of rush hour traffic all around me that confuses matters. Turning to my gear the difference was even more apparent. Having swapped out my trout bag for my warm-water bag at the truck, I stared into the bins of my large compartment box. Gone were the finely tied nymphs and dries of my trout waters. Before me were oddly configured mutations of spun deer hair, rubber and marabou in every color imaginable. I chose a #6 yellow and black mid-sized popper and tied it to the 8 pound tippet that felt more like a section of climbing rope than an extension of a fly line and leader. Looking out over the water, 30 feet in front of me was a swirl within a 10 foot section of open water which seemed the perfect place to start. Stripping out line, the casting stroke felt foreign as the 6 weight floating bass taper struggled to accelerate its loop due to the bright yellow-dyed Easter Peep that seemed to be flapping around on the end of it. After an extra half dozen false cast I was able to straighten things out and manage a somewhat subtle delivery into the small opening. Well, not subtle really. In comparison to dropping a size18 pale Morning Dun on the water with a 4 weight double-taper line, it looked like somebody had tossed a basketball into the opening. I still was not feeling it.

Then it happened. As the rings receded, I gave the popper a short twitch, and after an additional few seconds, 2 more short twitches in quick succession. The small bass responded as if it were its first meal in a week, smashing the popper in a swirl much larger than its 15 inches suggested. Five minutes later, after pulling it through and around countless lily stalks, I was holding him up to admire. It really was a joy to behold. Largemouth bass are to me the Labrador retriever of the fish world. Eager to attack pretty much anything that looks like food. And once returned to the water, they quickly and eagerly stage themselves again in order to repeat the process. They have a singular focus and attention span, much like a lab with a tennis ball. When lipping a bass to retrieve a popper, I get the feeling that given one more small step on the evolutionary ladder their tongue would be hanging out and their tails would be wagging as you released them.

As I slid the fish back into the water, I found myself oddly at ease. Gone were the worries of the work week, the traffic around me and the lack of trout waters. The switch had been flipped. Often in my pursuit of moving waters I tend to forget just how much I enjoy simply catching fish. Here, in the suburban setting in which I found myself, things are in fact stripped down to that fact. There are no pristine scenes to behold or the silence of stream setting. In place of that are the yellow pond lilies and turtles hanging around as if spectators to my efforts. There is still beauty to enjoy if one looks around, and once a fish is hooked none of that matters any more. As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans". But it is not enough to simply follow suite and do as the locals. To that leads to disappointment and monotony. What is required is for that mental switch to flip. At that point, the rise of a bucket-mouthed bass is equal to that of a rainbow trout rising to a green drake hatch. The glurp of a copper-breasted bluegill sucking in a foam cricket is the equal of an orange-spotted brown trout sipping spinners in a tail out. It's then and only then that comparisons and preconceptions are pushed aside and you are open to appreciate what really is before you.

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